You can read Part I here, which I’ve updated with photos and videos, and you can read Part II here.
**Since I began writing this, I have experienced birth a few more times. Four times, in fact. Unfortunately, three of the births were miscarriages, but one – the most recent – was a beautiful Hypnobabies birth, complete with gentle pressure waves (as I snarkingly refer to them later in this post). It took me over four years to complete the last part of this story, and I left most of the content as I had written it in the past, with the occasional strikethrough here and there. Hope you enjoy!**
I’ve gone through the wringer and around the mulberry bush to get to this part of the story. No matter how many times I’ve tried to write it down
over the past year since L’s birth in November 2010 ( three over four years now!), the sting has been too much to bear. I struggled for so long – over a year – with crippling postpartum depression, and I attempted to process the ways in which my birth story served as one of the sources of my depression. There are a number of reasons that my birth story didn’t go the way I wanted it to go, and I’ve placed blame everywhere – on myself, on my husband, on the hospital and healthcare providers – but I’ve finally come to a place where I’ve realized the blame game serves no useful purpose.
There are parts of my L&D story that suck. There are things I wish hadn’t happened that I cannot change. I have held my birth story at arms length for
three over four years now, turning it over and over, examining it like an ugly tchotchke I’d like to hide in the bottom of a closet but knowing that it came from a relative who will visit unannounced a few times a year and demand to see it, so I’m not sure where to put it.
Two pieces of writing I came across in 2011 helped me put things in perspective:
If absolutely everything you didn’t want happens to you, or even if your birth just isn’t what you hoped, this was still your story and nobody else’s. It’s a story that you will probably want to tell in detail someday to a caring friend or maybe even to your child. At some point—even years later—it can help to write it down. The good parts and the bad parts, what you saw and did, and how you felt. Your story will become precious to you for exactly what it is—the beginning of your life with your child.
There really is life after birth, and it really will be wonderful (most days).
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, “Owning Your Birth”
And this blog post from Suebob, who I’m convinced is either a) my soulmate, even though we’ve never once spoken to one another, or b) has found a way to tap into my brain and hijack my thoughts. She talks about friends who got into an argument and decided to write their accounts down and read them to a “jury” to have the unbiased group lay blame:
When we heard the stories, we were shocked. It was like we weren’t in the same room, so little overlap was there between the four realities. We all had our own histories, and they weren’t at all alike.
Four people. Same room. Same night. Completely different accounts.
Yesterday at church, my dear Reverend Bonnie posed a question. “What would it be like,” she asked “If you could give up your stories of what had happened when someone wronged you?”
Those old stories are pretty much useless.
I don’t know any more. I don’t have to. And in that, there is freedom.
Holding tight to these quotes, the three babies I’ve lost, and the healing birth I experienced earlier this year, I’ve landed somewhere safe. No one was intentionally cruel to me during my labor and delivery. No one acted with any level of malice. In fact, there are an overwhelming number of loving and tender moments that are beginning to come into focus after
three more than four years of trying to examine my story with a bruised heart. In the same way that a good run will tear tiny muscle fibers and put you in a world of pain before healing into stronger muscles than you had before, so too has the trauma, tenderness, and black depression surrounding my birth experience begun to crack and reveal the stronger, more confidant, and released version of myself and my story.
Just because I don’t like every element of what happened, that doesn’t make my birth story someone else’s. It’s my story. I’ve never given myself permission to own my story. Because there used to be so many elements I wish I could change, I continued to treat the experience like a dirty sock instead of the precious, transformational, powerful moment that brought L into my arms for the first time and began our life together.
I don’t have a shitty birth story. I have MY birth story. And it really kicks ass.
Alright. Enough psychobabble. All you want is the part where I shat out a folded-in-half baby.
As we pulled into the hospital, we realized that we’d only been to the hospital through the non-emergency entrance, and as such had no idea how to get to Labor and Delivery. Because it was after 10 p.m., we had no option but the emergency entrance, so F tried to navigate his way around to the doors. A cop stood near the entrance, and he asked her where to park so he could help me get in. She ignored his first two “Excuse me?”s, and only after he yelled “HEY!” did she glance in his direction. He asked again, and she executed some sort of eye-roll-shrug combo. F continued yelling “Oh great that was really helpful THANKSFORNOTHINGYOUSTUPID-” until I snapped at him just to stop driving and let me get out. Hellooo…I’m the one with a baby trying to exit my body alien-style.
I placed my pillow on my stomach and waited through another contraction before getting out of the car and wobbling to the sliding doors. F drove away as I stood in front of the unopening door. Nothing. I blinked a few times and tried to figure out if I was hallucinating. I had labored for over 24 hours, I made it to the hospital a good hour or so after my water broke, so WHYTHEHELLWASTHEDOORNOTOPENING???? Another contraction came on (they were about a minute or two apart now) and I sank with my pillow onto the concrete pillar near the door. The stoic cop saw me and asked if I needed a wheelchair. After the car ride, sitting seemed like the worst idea ever. I needed the door to open! She told me the sliding door on the other side was open. That would have been helpful two contractions ago, lady.
By the time I made it to the other door, another contraction hit. I love all you mamas who are able to refer to contractions as “pressure waves,” or, better yet, “GENTLE pressure waves,” and maybe one day when I have a second birth story to tell I’ll do the same**, but these were the Hawaiian tsunami of “gentle waves.” I shifted my eyes around the ER long enough to see a few homeless people camped out and ambled my way to the counter.
“I need to go to Labor and Delivery,” I managed to whisper.
“Are you in labor?” the woman asked, barely looking up from her computer.
“Mmm-hmmm…” Another contraction.
“How do you know you’re in labor?” she cocked an eyebrow, unimpressed. I aimed every horrid and murderous thought a human can have at that eyebrow in the span of two deliberate blinks.
“My water broke about two hours ago and I’m having back-to-back contractions that last over a minute and are less than two minutes apart canIpleasegoTOLABORANDDELIVERYNOW?”
She mumbled some directions and I shuffle-stepped down a long corridor. I got on an elevator, went down another hallway, turned around twice, had several contractions, and finally ended right back at the ER counter, weeping.
“I can’t find it. I don’t know how to get there,” I sniffed. She repeated her instructions and I went again to the elevator, then gave up after another five minutes or so of yieldless searching. I leaned against the wall through another contraction – still alone – and looked up to see my midwife walking down the hallway.
“What are you doing here alone? Where is your husband?” M asked.
“I don’t know. He was parking. I got lost. I don’t know.” She grabbed my arm and led me down a few more hallways and into my room.
At this point in the story I used to get all itchy and frustrated and had not been able to write any of this down before. I did not like the way many elements of my birth story panned out – I know that there are just as many elements about which I should be proud, and I am, but there are several that frustrated and upset me. For starters – I wanted my mom, my sister, my best friend, and a doula (and possibly a few other friends) in the hospital with me to help me. F didn’t – he wanted to be my sole support and comfort, assisting me in bringing L into this world quietly, without interventions or drugs. Because he was so adamant about this, I acquiesced. That’s Rookie Mistake #1.
Rookie Mistakes #2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 all stem from #1. I held a LOT of hostility about this that I didn’t know how to release properly. It mostly came out in tears for the first year or so after L’s birth. Sometimes it came out in screaming shrieks and imagined death blows to the head (usually F’s head…sometimes my own).
Three Over four years later, though, it all boils down to the danger of assumption – neither of us had experienced childbirth before, and both of us trusted that everything would just happen exactly as it should. We got pregnant on the first try, had a textbook pregnancy (aside from a weird first ultrasound and being told she was breech), and here we were in the hospital 39 weeks and six days after she was conceived. We had watched lots of YouTube videos and heard lots of birth stories. How hard could it be?
Once F got into the hospital room and saw that I was not handling my labor the way he thought I should, he checked out on me. Checked out – no touching, no words, nothing. He sat in a chair beside the bed. For years I thought this meant he hated me and wanted me to suffer. I know now that he was scared. I was screaming and punching and VULNERABLE. He didn’t know what to do with a flailing, hysterical wife who simultaneously needed him more than ever yet didn’t want any support he was offering.
A nurse came in about a half hour later, told me I would have to get undressed so she could hook me up to a monitor. My midwife told me in my prenatal appointments that I would not have to undress and could wear my most comfortable outfit throughout the L&D. I had carefully selected my clothing – my favorite They Might Be Giants shirt that I’ve had since I was 15, and the one pair of comfy pants that I wore throughout my entire pregnancy – because M told me that I could wear them as long as I wanted and move around. The nurse said M told her to instruct me to disrobe. F said nothing to challenge her, and I was in too much pain to argue. The nurse insisted again, and my midwife was nowhere to be found (she was the only midwife on call over Thanksgiving weekend, and there were four mamas in labor at the same time – one with twins!), so I undressed and tried to accommodate the nurse as she hooked me up to a monitor. M had told me the monitoring part would last about 10-15 minutes, which is a long enough time to be immobilized in labor, but they kept my monitor on for over an hour. AN HOUR IN TRANSITION LABOR WITH A BREECH BABY WITH NO ABILITY TO MOVE. In a hospital gown someone probably died in 24 hours earlier (thank you, Mr. Gaffigan).
I had no voice. This was the most vulnerable moment I’d ever had in my life and I was alone.
After the monitoring ended, I asked the nurse if there was any chance I could get into the birthing tub. She told me no because L was breech. I asked if I could get into the shower – M said previously that I could at least get in the shower even if I couldn’t use the birthing tub. Nope. No shower. Stay in the bed. Don’t move. I asked to see my midwife, but she was busy with the other babies.
Another contraction brought with it more water (my water seemed to be slowly tearing and passing with each contraction), and F asked me if I needed to go to the bathroom. I got up and tried to go, and he discussed something with the nurse quietly. Enraged, I screamed at him to tell me what they were plotting against me, and he pointed out the fact that I had pooped myself, all over the bed. He was trying to change the sheets without me knowing so I wouldn’t be embarrassed.
Ok. Maybe he wasn’t a complete a-hole throughout the process.
I looked down into the toilet as another contraction hit, and I realized I was pooping again, Black, tarry poop. Out of my vagina. What? I had NO IDEA what was happening, so I whimpered to the nurse. She took one look at it and yelled “We’ve got meconium!” and took off out the door.
Meconium. Baby poop. In a typical birth, if a baby poops inside of her mama, this can be really bad news. When inhaled, meconium can block the baby’s airways and cause breathing problems. IN A TYPICAL BIRTH. The nurse was responding to the sight of meconium as though L was head-down instead of butt-down. She came back in, mumbling something about a c-section and saying the midwife would be right in.
More fear. At this point I was relieved to know that, even if I was cut open like a fish, this whole circus would be over soon. M walked into the room, took one look at the meconium falling out with each watery contraction, and said, “It’s meconium. She’s breech. It happens,” and walked back out.
Meconium happens. Heh.
The nurse looked at me, writhing and fearful, and said she could certainly help me with my pain if I wanted.
Yes! Help me! Get me into a different position, rub my back, help me visualize, put me in the shower! I nodded in agreement and she began discussing the various drugs she could offer me. There was a cocktail she could put into my IV to dull the pain for at least four hours, and there was the epidural, of course. I slipped into a dark and evil place while she rattled on, completely ignoring my requests of “no matter what I say, don’t offer me any pain medication” on my birth plan. I declined her “assistance” and she walked back out, leaving me on my back and still connected to the monitor.
After two hours of not being able to move and not having anyone help me, the nurse checking in on me began offering an epidural. I was passing meconium with every contraction, which was terrifying me, especially after the nurse who saw it ran for M in a panic. I needed someone to tell me repeatedly that I was ok, but instead I was left with the panicked voices in my own head, which were telling me that everything was NOT ok, the baby was never going to come, I was going to die in childbirth, and armageddon would follow shortly thereafter.
I ignored the can-I-help-you-with-drugs nurse for another hour or two before I just gave up. I couldn’t do it. It was 4am and I had been stuck in a bed in what I now understand as transition labor for over five hours with no voice, no support, and no sense of hope. I agreed first to the medication that she said would last about four hours and would help take the edge off. About two minutes after she administered the dosage, I felt a bit of relief and relaxed a little. She was right – I should have taken this hours ago! It took the edge off just enough that I could breathe. Ten minutes after that, the medication had worn completely off and I was writhing and sobbing again. I called the nurse back and asked her what had happened, what went wrong. She shrugged and said that sometimes the medicine just doesn’t work.
I started to panic about L’s position in my body. I wasn’t prepared to see meconium gush out of me with every contraction, and I had only heard awful, c-section things about meconium showing before the baby was born. I wanted my mom, my sister, my friends – anyone who would support me – but I had told them all that I *wanted* to do this alone with F. I had tried to take on what he wanted so we would be a team. I had no basis for comparison at the time, but the sheer mechanics of passing a baby folded in half through your cervix seemed like it might be a little more painful than a head-first babe. All of these thoughts, combined with this horrid, ugly voice telling me I wasn’t strong enough, I couldn’t handle this, I was a failure bore down deep enough that I gave in.
I know some of you are probably reading this and thinking Bitch please. I would have asked for an epidural the moment I walked in there. Or perhaps, all that matters is that you and the baby ended up healthy. Stop whining.
Fair enough. It’s my birth, though, so kiss a butt.
Around 4am I asked for an epidural, sobbing that I was a failure and that I was sorry. I apologized over and over to F, to L, to God – I wanted more than anything to bring her into this world drug-free, and I couldn’t.
The anesthesiologist came in and started another round of hell for me. The sheer distraction of her coming in and getting me to move around – go figure! – actually helped my contractions a little, but once it was time to put the needle into my back, all hell broke loose. It didn’t take the first time and the pain of the needle hurt worse than the contractions. I felt everything, and I started screaming at her to stop – PLEASE STOP!!! – and begging F to make her stop. She started yelling at me to be still, F started yelling at me, and I fell over a chair, sobbing and defeated as she stabbed the needle a second time into my back, still with no local to help. This is literally the worst memory I have of the entire event. I have never felt so lonely, so defenseless, and so exposed as I did then.
Long story short – the epidural didn’t completely take. We tried everything we could – turning me from one side to another, wiggling every part of me that was wiggle-able…nothing. My left butt cheek went numb, but I still felt every contraction and couldn’t rest. A nurse came in and asked me to try to sleep a little – I explained for the fifth time that I wasn’t feeling relief, and that I still had full control of my lower half (which I demonstrated by moving my legs like I was riding a bicycle), and she frowned and said that was odd. I asked her if I could use the restroom, to which she replied no, she had to put a catheter in me. Second worse memory of the event. Catheters SUCK.
About two hours after the epidural fiasco began, I asked F to give me my phone. I had spent the past two hours sinking into what was likely the beginning of the postpartum depression I experienced. I texted my mom, sister, and friend to let them know, and I quote, that I was “a failure.” My mother texted me back: “If you need anything, we’re in the waiting room.”
WHAT. THE. HELL.
This is one of the many, many reasons why I adore my family. My mother, stepfather, and sister had been in the waiting room ALL NIGHT – in fact, they were just one room away from me the entire time. They could hear me crying and yelling, but they respected my wishes and didn’t come into my room. At one point they were standing RIGHT OUTSIDE MY DOOR. This is the most bittersweet memory I have – I had wanted them so badly, and I never know they were there.
I sent back a text: “GET IN HERE RIGHT NOW!!” and all three of them came into the hospital room. By this point the sun was starting to rise, both literally and metaphorically, on my worst night ever, and the energy they brought into the room was incredible. Mama sent F and my stepfather out to get breakfast and coffee, and she and my sister went to work on me – my sister braiding my hair and rubbing and tickling my arms (comfort things she instinctively knew to do – as little girls we would always play with our hair and draw pictures on each other with our fingers to help each other go to sleep), Mama massaging my feet and legs. They talked to me in hushed tones and told me that they would only stay as long as I wanted – they would go right back out when I wanted them to. Yeah right – no way was I letting them leave. This was the best part of the whole labor! I had them step out briefly when F came back and told him that they would be here for the remainder of this event. He saw the immediate change in my pain level and attitude and nodded in emphatic agreement.
By 7:30 a.m. I asked my sister to get the nurse – I wanted her to check me. I had only been an almost-2 before the epidural horror, and I could tell things were getting close. The nurse came in, said she was pretty sure I wasn’t ready, but agreed to check me anyway. She looked shocked and amused as she checked me, saying “You’re right – you’re almost fully dilated. I’m also not used to feeling anything other than a head when I check a cervix. Feeling a baby’s butt is a little different.” I asked her to confirm that she felt a little girl’s butt, and she laughed and said there were no little boy parts that she could feel.
My midwife came in shortly thereafter and checked me herself. “This is what we’re going to do,” she began. “We’re going to turn off the epidural, I’m going to go home, feed and walk my dogs, take a shower, eat breakfast, and come back, then you’re going to have the baby.”
I blinked a few times and mumbled something about leaving whatever little bit of pain relief I had turned on; she scoffed and walked out the door. When the nurse walked back in, my sister asked her if she would leave the epidural turned on for a little while. The nurse smiled and said she had been ordered to turn it off. Katie offered, “If you’ll tell me how much money you want, I’ll give it to you to keep it turned on.” She probably doesn’t even remember saying that, but it struck me as one of the sweetest, most supportive things she had ever said on my behalf. She knew that I didn’t want an epidural, but she also had heard me try to ask to keep it on and she decided to help be my voice. Love, love, love that sister of mine.
The epidural was off (but not out – they kept it in in case things went downhill in delivery and they needed to do an emergency c-section) before 8am, and I slowly began to retreat into myself as what little pain relief I did have began to dwindle away. By 10am I felt the urge to push, so I slowly and carefully began pushing on my own as each contraction hit. These contractions felt completely different from the 3am ones – whether it was the faulty epidural or the final stage of labor/delivery I was in, I’ll never know. These were painful, but useful, if that makes sense – I could tell that it was time to get down to biznaz.
By 10:00 a.m., an entire circus of medical professionals arrived. There was a respiratory team in case L didn’t breathe properly when she came out. There was a cardio team in case anything went awry with her heart. My amazing perinatologist – the one who told me from the beginning that breech was a variation of normal – was there and had actually been in the hospital all night, waiting for go time. There was the regular birth team as well – the midwife and two nurses. Combined with my family (my stepfather was hiding in the bathroom, volleying between sitting on the toilet and jumping up when he heard any sounds, which triggered the automatic flush…he also gave M quite a shock when she walked in there to wash her hands), there were about fourteen folks in the room. At one point a nurse walked in and said, “I’m not assigned to you, but I’ve never seen a breech birth…can I come in and watch?” I told her sure, that there were snacks on the counter and to help herself.
Pushing sucked, but there’s no way around it. Between the ring of fire and whatever else was going on to allow a breech baby to pass, I was vomiting in between and during pushing. Thank God my stomach was empty (the nurses wouldn’t let me eat all night!!) and it was mostly just dry-heaving and a little bile. F was at my head, Mama was holding my right leg (I was upright in the bed but still in the bed because of the epidural line), M was in front of me, another nurse had my left leg, and yet another nurse was applying warm counter pressure to my bottom (the only thing about the entire pushing episode that felt good). My sister was bouncing around the room, taking pictures and trying to see what was happening, all the while shouting the funniest inspirational things: “You’re doing great! Keep pushing! Don’t listen to your stupid head – you’ve got this!”
I disappeared inside myself for the last hour of pushing. Eyes shut, primal animal mode. My mother kept a sick bag in front of my face to catch any puke, and after about thirty minutes of pushing, M told me to look at my baby. I heard her, but it was like someone was talking to me underwater. I kept my eyes shut and prepared for another contraction.
“Heather, open your eyes,” she tried again. I shook my head no.
“Look at your baby, Heather,” a little louder this time.
“No ma’am,” I shook my head again, deep in concentration.
“HEATHER OPEN YOUR EYES AND LOOK AT YOUR BABY!!”
I opened my eyes for the one and only time, and to this day I’m not sure what I saw. Every video, every photo, every everything I’ve ever seen of a L&D involves a baby coming out and down, usually head-first. Whatever parts of L were coming out of me were pointed straight up – my first thought was that it looked like a horrific erection. Gross but true.
“WHATAMILOOKINGAT?!?!?!!?!” I screamed in horror.
Everyone around me laughed, and I shut my eyes again, determined not to open them until L was out. I pushed on my own until L’s legs were almost out, then I felt M pull each ankle so that the legs were free. Another contraction and pushing, and M reached inside and pulled each arm out. Her tone got very stern and low as she said, “Heather, I want you to push as hard as you can and don’t stop, no matter what.”
I took a deep breath and pushed with everything in me, not daring to stop. Mama says at this point M was torquing L side to side at the shoulders, which now,
three over four years later, suggests to me that perhaps she was chin-up. Interestingly, though, L has always had an incredible startle reflex, and I wonder how much of that is related to this final journey through the birth canal. Suddenly the pain and pressure stopped as she fully emerged, and I opened my eyes as M placed L on my stomach, about two hours after I first started pushing. L was quiet and beautiful, and M rubbed her all over for about five seconds before L let out a little shriek. I have never felt as calm, quiet, and focused as I did in those first few moments with L. I was stunned and amazed at her beauty, and I couldn’t stop looking in her eyes. She was gorgeous and perfect and mine. I loved her more than I had ever loved anything or anyone, more than I knew I could ever love, and I knew at that moment that I would do anything that was ever required of me for her.
“Hi,” I said, covering her in blankets and holding her to my chest. She blinked and looked around, giving me a wonderful “What the…?” look. M guided me as I helped L latch on and nurse for the first time, then went to work stitching me back together (I tore inside and out). A few more contractions and I passed my placenta, which didn’t hurt at all. M put it on ice so we could encapsulate it later.
A couple of things happened shortly after L’s birth that I didn’t like. She got a vitamin K shot against my protests (which I’m now 100% fine with – she was horribly bruised on her legs from her position), her cord was cut within a minute of her birth, and we had a three-day jaundice battle with the hospital before she was allowed to come home. But
three over four years later, I know now that I am the one in charge and in control. I will use that knowledge to my benefit if we have another child.** I didn’t know I could argue with medical staff, and honestly, I didn’t have the strength to argue during L’s labor and delivery. I’ve always learned best by making mistakes, and having all of the hiccups I had in L’s labor and delivery have provided me with a very clear line of focus for what to do in subsequent births.
Some of the most amazing parts of the story:
– L never had to be taken away from me. I’ve heard of so many breech (and headfirst) babies needing NICU time or oxygen or resuscitation or worse. The nurses weighed her and measured her for about two minutes, then gave her to F to bring back to me.
– I did not have to have a c-section. I didn’t realize how common cesarians are with breech deliveries until later. If I’ve got the stats right, less than 25% of babies end up breech in the third trimester, and of those, less than 5% stay in the breech position. Of that 5%, 99% are delivered via c-section. Those who are delivered vaginally are at a slightly higher risk for needed interventions, ranging from oxygen to life support. L and I beat all the odds.
– L had absolutely no leg or hip complications from the pregnancy or delivery. Her legs were around her ears for a few hours, but they relaxed and all is well. She’s a big fan of talking on her “feet phones,” though, which always reminds me of her birth:
I’ve had several mamas and non-mamas comment on my birth story, with responses ranging from “Whatever – all that matters is you’re both healthy” to “I wasn’t a rock star like you – I went for the c-section with my breech” to “You’re crazy – why would anyone even CONSIDER a non-epidural L&D?” And you know what? All of them are right. Birth is personal. Birth matters.
I’ve let go of the anger and the feelings of betrayal to which I clung so tightly for the first year or two (or four…let’s be honest) after L’s birth. No one – except myself – had any ill will towards me during the process. We all did the best we could with the knowledge and resources available to us. Sure, there are things I’ll do differently if I’m given another opportunity to experience labor and delivery**, but my birth story with L – OUR birth story – is amazing and beautiful and deserves as much love as L and I deserve.